It's no surprise to see big numbers coming out of the Olympics. It's almost a tradition in sports for an athlete to spend a pregame interview expressing reverence for some long-held record and the towering figure who set it, then shatter it like an old beer bottle at the first opportunity.
The big data era has produced two major effects on the Games. First, it has allowed the relentless analysis of performance broken down by every imaginable variable. Even publicly available tools offer ways to differentiate athletes by educational level, gender, height, origin, and other criteria. The other effect, more widely publicized, is the overwhelming volume of content produced by fans, attendees, and competitors tweeting, texting, and otherwise digitally distributing their news and commentary on the games, in real time.
It is in the analysis of performance where big data analytics shine, however. And, while many of the statistics below don't qualify as the hidden gems many seek in big data projects, the scale of the numbers surpasses the comparatively simplistic analyses needed to pull up the information.
For example, the U.S. men's basketball team shattered so many records in a single game Thursday night, the number of new records might, in itself, qualify as a record.
Not only did this edition of the Dream Team beat Nigeria 156 to 73, it eclipsed the previous high-point score for a single game (138 points by Brazil vs. Egypt in 1988), and its 83-point margin of victory eclipsed the 72-point rout scored by the Michael Jordan-led version of the Dream Team against Cuba in 1992.
Carmelo Anthony kept up the record shattering with an all-time-high individual scoring mark of 37 points, beating the 31 points set by Stephon Marbury in 2004. The team also set records for the highest number of three-pointers (26) and field goals (59), and field-goal percentage (71).
[ Learn how analytic are playing a major role in keeping the Games secure. See Olympics Tap Big Data To Enhance Security. ]
For pure volume of records set in a single event, the U.S. men's basketball team was untouchable, even compared to that set by China's 16-year-old Ye Shiwen, who took gold in the women's 400-meter individual medley, and marked a final-50-meter time faster than Ryan Lochte's, the American who won his own individual medley with the second-fastest time in the history of men's swimming. Eight new swimming records were set, including one by Lochte.
The most historically significant numbers set during the 2012 Olympics, however, aren't being set by the athletes; they're being set by the fans.
The International Olympic Committee had to ask fans to cut it out after the million or so lining the route of the men's Olympic road race put up so many tweets, texts, and other digital postings they overloaded the wireless networks that carried competitors' GPS signals that help race officials and broadcasters identify the leaders.
It's not as if Olympic networks are particularly weak. British Telecom reinforced its London cellular and Wi-Fi networks in anticipation of the games; Cisco built 30-something networks at and between various venues, going through 2,200 network switches, 16,000 IP phones, and 80,000 Wi-Fi access points in building an overall network designed to support 11,000 competitors and their support teams and officials, plus the spectators and more than 22,000 credentialed journalists covering the games for a global audience.
Cisco's Network, By The Numbers
Domains: 3, one each to serve IOC administration; 22,000 credentialed journalists; and live broadcast video and data
Network switches: 2,200
Access points: 80,000
IP phones: 16,000
Network-design specification: 99.999% availability, or a maximum of six seconds of downtime per week
Also, every big event gets an enormous network infrastructure that is torn down and repurposed within hours of the end of the event.